There is a “pecking order” in the chicken society, established early within the group. This is a natural and normal event. However, sometimes this gets out of hand, and you'll have one dominant chicken who tries to kill another chicken.Why? I have no idea, but it happened to me last week with my chicks…and these chicks were only 6 1/2 weeks old! It started when the largest rooster in the group began pecking and chasing a brother…Okay, I thought, this is just the natural order of things, it's something the group has to work out itself. Shortly thereafter, a second rooster joined him in the harassment, and things became quite vicious and noisy, with much running and shrieking. We witnessed the chase, and this pair of roosters were adamant in their beating of this third chicken. The two offenders were put into a separate pen in the garage, and not allowed to be with the others for several days. From what I've read, the thinking behind this is that the separation causes a new pecking order to be established in their absence, so when the offenders are reintroduced into the group, they will then be at the bottom of the pecking order, and the aggressiveness will not be tolerated. After a few days, the larger of the two roosters, the previously dominant one, was put back into the group…he was immediately put “in his place”, so to speak, and seemed to accept his new position. The next day, the second rooster was re-introduced, and things seemed to be working smoothly. The rooster that had been initially been under attack was still afraid of these two birds, but they all seemed to be getting along fairly well. Wow, I thought, thank goodness for finding this “separation “technique…it really works! For two days, all was well, until noon when we suddenly heard screaming and noise from the chick pen…the two rogue roosters had ganged up on the same bird, it was covered in blood, bald, and appeared to be dead. I picked up this poor little bird, totally limp in my hands, while Erik gathered up the two offenders, with blood on their beaks and chest feathers, and put them back into a separate pen. Now, the really strange part of all this is that these two roosters are very sweet when apart from the others…you would never know that they tried to kill another bird, not once, but twice. I cradled the limp victim for awhile, not really knowing what to do with him. He was completely bald down to his neck, bloody and swollen, with actual holes in his head. While I cried looking at this near-death creature, I was furious at the other two…I knew I could never keep them, much less return them to the group. This was an act of cannibalism, they were out for the kill. I saw this with the first incident, but told myself they could all work it out. How could I ever trust them them with the others again? How could I give them to anyone else, knowing that they could do this again?
Realizing that Rocky Road, the limp body in my hands, was still breathing, I put him on a blanket in a Rubbermaid tub, put neosporin on his bloody head and neck, and hung a 250 watt infrared lamp over him. He finally opened his eyes, and I realized he was in shock, so the best thing to do was to keep him warm and try to get some electrolytes into him. I had some children's pedialyte in the cabinet, mixed it up, and just wet my finger with the liquid and tried to moisten his beak with it. This went on every half hour or so, into the night. I felt so inadequate and unprepared for this. Ironically, I had made a list of things to have at hand, a sort of first-aid kit for poultry, but hadn't actually done it, of course. By bedtime, Rocky Road was holding his head up, and I had hopes that he might actually make it, if he didn't have any brain damage or any other injuries. This all took place on Friday, and Rocky Road is miraculously doing very well. I am now using Wonder Dust (intended for horses, but recomended by many people for chickens) on his wounds, and his head looks so-o-o much better! Wonder Dust is gray in color, so his head looks better just because his naked skin doesn't look quite so pink! He is now eating and drinking, and will stay in our lap or in our hands or on our shoulder, content to preen himself and have some company. He has been isolated from his brothers, of course, so we're giving him lots of TLC to make up for the loneliness…I think he's becoming just a bit spoiled…he seems to like all the attention he's getting!
Now, getting back to the Ugly Side of chickens and my two Rogue Roosters…Don't forget, these are still chicks… As hard as it was, they were euthanized on Sunday. I have cried a million tears over this, but there was no other way out for me…Along with the decision to raise chickens comes the responsibility to sometimes make difficult decisions. Unfortunately, one of these roosters was a gorgeous bird that I was considering showing or using for breeding (he had a very soft crow). I knew I could never trust either one of them around other chickens, male or female. Their aggressiveness within the group was more than just establishing themselves. I have since learned, via the internet, that the pecking of birds is normal, but when they chase a bird and coral it into a corner and then peck viciously at the head, they are going for a kill, not trying to establish the pecking order. Why does this happen? I have no idea. Neither does anyone else, it seems. There are theories, ranging from overcrowding to vitamin deficiencies from poor feeding practices to cage-keeping, but none of those applied in this case. This was a deliberate and focused attack, not once but twice. There was no provocation, no confrontation, no apparent reason. These two birds were just hell-bent on killing this third rooster, I don't know why…similiar, I guess, to a dog attack where the animal attacks out-of-the-blue, for no apparent reason. I am very sad about the entire episode, but I am also relieved that the rest of the chicks are safe. I couldn't live with the constant fear of another attack…I couldn't breed that quality into future offspring…I couldn't in clear conscience, give the birds away knowing they could do this again to another bird.